Sunday, July 22, 2012

Racing - 2012 Naugatuck Criterium, Cat 3-4

I've written a few times about this race. I feel a small connection to it - the Junior race is named in memory of Paul Ruhlman, a kid I raced with when I was a kid. He helped me out a few times, made some pointed observations, and made me realize just how much I needed to learn about bike racing.

The Missus, Junior, and I made the trip to the course midday - with the late start we could afford to leave later than normal. This made for a nice morning - we had breakfast out at our regular place, Junior charmed a few more people, and then we headed back to watch the last stage of the Tour.

I wasn't sure how Cavendish would do at the end of the race, especially after reading a Tweet where he described how he was getting sick all over himself on the climbs. Too much information perhaps but I've personally never ridden hard enough to get sick on myself and even so I have a hard time doing well in races. Therefore it put some doubt in my mind about his ability to sprint on the last day.

Of course the day before the time trial he won the stage in spectacular fashion. The break dangled just ahead of the field in the last kilometer. Cav eased a bit hard going into the last turn, losing his leadout man's wheel, and I thought for sure that he'd made a critical error. Lotto took up the running for Greipel, Cav slotted in, and as the break started to disintegrate in front Cav launched.

He skipped from rider to rider, taking refuge from the wind when he could, then bridged up to the last two survivors of the break. Then, spectacularly, he dove to the right, clear of everyone, and sprinted to a dominant stage win.

I've sprinted through breaks to win but only at Bethel, and after I've "practiced" the finished hundreds of times (through laps of the race as well as sprints). I can't imagine pulling off a sprint like that after weeks of super hard riding on a road that I either never or rarely rode (I don't know if it was used as a finish for a race he'd done in the past).

Sunday Cav showed his dominance once again. Wiggins pulled hard going into the finale, bringing to mind Laurent Fignon leading out teammate and birthday boy Pascal Jules, the first Tour finish I watched on TV. I remember Lemond doing the same, but in both cases their rider didn't win the stage. Wiggins had the luxury of leading out this generation's Abdujaporov/Cipollini/McEwen/Petacchi/Bontempi/Museeuw. His rider won from way far out.

I thought of this teamwork, Wiggin's willingness to work when he really didn't need to, when I was at the race. I had one teammate in the very small field, Bryan. I realize now why but I think there were something like 7 or 8 races over the weekend, including the Hilltowns Road Race and a perennial favorite of mine the Stirling (NJ) Crit, and a slew of races in NYC.

The sheer number of events probably sucked up a lot of racers. Also the Tour was on and most racers are fans, and if they were fans, they were at home watching the Tour in the morning. This precludes driving a few hours to make a noon or 1 PM start, and suddenly it's much easier to do the "close" race, not the far one.

At any rate I know this isn't my race. It's not my kind of course even when I am fit, and now that I'm not really fit at all I couldn't even count on finishing the race. I decided that I'd work for Bryan, and if it came to the sprint I told myself to keep pedaling to the line (my habit is to sit up if I'm not in the top 10 or so, and if I'm not able to sprint I'll sit up with half a lap to go).

Bryan did the M35+ race just before the 3-4 race and soloed the last two laps to finish between the break and the field. This meant that he'd need some recovery time as our race lined up next. The small field meant less shelter, and the course favored a break.

It'd be a hard race.

Two white dots to the very left - the break early on.
Then a small split in the field. Then another one.
The whole race felt like this looked.

Of course a break went. Eventually a group of about five escaped up the road, strong steady racers all. I couldn't do much but hoped to latch onto a chase group. If the gap came down and Bryan felt good then he'd be able to go too.

 Turn 1 - real "small town main street" feel

Turn 2

 The deceivingly tiring hill on the backstretch (note wall "angle")

Turn 3, an acute turn.

A few times I got surprised at a line a rider took (or didn't take). I remembered that this was a 3-4 race, not a straight 3 race, and I should be expecting such riding. I wasn't and had to delay my effort a bit as I'd lost my run into the backstretch. As the race progressed I adjusted my expectations and never saw anything weird or unusual. Maybe not efficient but definitely nothing dangerous.

I felt like this race was progressing like a TuesdayTheRent race, where small groups would slide off the front, never to be caught again. I figured I'd let a group get a bit clear and bridge, then join the disappearing little group. I waited for a move to establish but still be within 15 seconds of the field, or, ideally, 10 seconds or so.

A few guys rolled off the front, and after a couple laps they looked like they'd settled into a good rhythm. I decided this was my move.

I did a seated rolling surge, wanting to break the elastic but already having used some of my reserves just getting back into position (after an unexpected swerve) to make my move. Unfortunately it came to naught, and when I rounded the last turn (3 turn course) I saw the next group was just too far away for me to bridge solo - they had at least 10 seconds after I covered whatever I did with my surge.

I eased and eventually guys started to come around me. One guy, meaning well, complimented me on my "nice pull". I had to grin - it was meant to be a field shattering surge, not a "nice pull".

I hid and recovered while Bryan set about bridging up to the break. The rest of the race went by in a haze. Main straight, find shelter, try not to hit too many bumps. First turn, watch for any weirdness but generally okay. Downhill, set up to the outside or inside, the middle wasn't ideal. Second turn, outside was great, inside was too, middle was so bumpy my chain came off a few times. Backstretch the right side worked well, then up the hill watch for the squeeze to the right. Around the last turn (anywhere worked well) then a few hard pedal strokes to roll up into shelter.

Rinse and repeat.

I started feeling really hot. After a particularly long surge on the backstretch (someone trying to launch a countermove) I decided that I'd had enough. I sat up as we hit the hill, hot, fatigued, and tired of making all these efforts at every part of the course.

Of course the field sat up too and I rolled back into it.

I kept going.

On the last lap a friendly rival pulled our group for much of the lap. The field remnants had splintered and the break had swelled to take all the places. I let him pull to the line. When the guy between us sprinted around, I rolled up to my friendly rival and pushed him forward. I wanted him to place ahead of me because, honestly, he'd worked hard during the race.

I rolled in after him, pedaling to the line as I'd promised myself, just not exactly how I envisioned. I felt happy to have finished, happy to have at least had the strength to make at least one move.

I also felt really zonked after the race - the Missus drove while I sat in the back with Junior.

Looking at the data I can see why I felt zonked - my heartrate soared to the mid 170s virtually every lap for the second half of the race, and my one effort meant my heartrate stayed at 171 for over 5 minutes - and this was midrace! Normally I'd make such efforts only at the end of a race.

Even without sprinting my heartrate hit 178 bpm before dropping to 174 by the line (since we'd all eased up).

(As an FYI I don't look at my numbers during the race, except an occasional glance to make sure there are numbers there and not zeros, so I didn't know any of this until I looked at the power file. An added bonus - even with coasting my 5 min cadence was 89 rpm, and it was close to 100 rpm when I was pedaling, so my form is acceptable. With shorter cranks I'd probably be closer to 110-115 rpm but on the 175s I lose some rpms.)

Although my power numbers are low - 236w for those 5 minutes, and 165w for the race, that's about what I can do - that's not really relevant. I need enough power to stay in the race. Although I was at my limit for much of it I managed to stay at least in the field.

I worked hard doing it too. It's good to rev the engine - it feels good to be able to make efforts, dig deeper, and keep going. This means I'm finally getting fit. It's a bit late in the season for me, especially since I don't do any cross or other fall/winter stuff, but still, this is better than getting shelled in the first few minutes of a race.

There are a few more races coming up on the schedule and then I don't know what I'll be doing. Hopefully this summer doldrum fatigue weariness strength thing keeps going, and I'll be able to race respectably the rest of the year.

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